vanity of vanities

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?

We're looking at the first chapters of Ecclesiastes tomorrow during our bible study. And I've been thinking about those verses a lot lately. Because the futility of the struggle for survival can weigh very heavy around here.

It's most obvious on those unfortunate ones that come to our door with absolutely nothing, and have to work so hard just to make a beginning again. So much effort for so little. And the fulfillment of their hopes is such a terribly long way ahead of them, often too far to even imagine.

But also I've experienced the futility of my own efforts here. The impossibility of keeping anything clean or in order; too many other hands to take and use them, too many tired or despairing people that leave things worse than they found them. And for every person that is helped, two more needy ones step into his place. "Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, and I feel it.

Yet there is also this reminder from Paul: "the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope" (Rom 8.20).

I believe even in the futility there is purpose. It helps turn our hearts away from dedicating ourselves to, and putting our trust in, these things that do not last. Away from any hope in what our own hands can gather or accomplish. Even if we are doing "charitable" work, these false hopes are very much a temptation. I've felt busy Martha's irritation several times in the past few days. So I am grateful to be shown the futility of my efforts so that I am reminded of the "one thing needful."

If I give away all I have,
and if I deliver my body to be burned,
but have not love,
I gain nothing...

Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.

Love never ends.